Since Branden was first born, I have been in many different situations where I look at people as if they had four heads while thinking to myself, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know this was your child!” Last I checked, I gave birth to Branden, and the only names on his birth certificate are mine, his, and my husband’s. I’m sure that all of you Mamas know exactly what I am talking about! I have come to refer to this awkward situation as The Tango of the Unwanted Parenting Advice.
Let’s face it, this title is quite fitting. It really is a dance around the subject of what is right for MY child, and what someone else THINKS is right for MY child. We have all been in this situation where people come out of the woodwork to offer parenting advice, leaving you to wonder silently, “Did I ask you for your opinion?” It is just plain miserable, awkward, and humiliating, whether it comes from friends, family, or strangers. (By the way, what is up with strangers who approach you and think they instantly know what is best for you and your situation? Kind of presumptuous, right? I will never understand.)
Dealing With Unwanted Parenting Advice
Let’s be real here for a second (as if I’m not being real enough already!). Each generation has their own debates about child rearing issues (ie. circumcision, breast-feeding, immunizations) that must be decided upon. Due to medical and technological advances, additional research, and current trends, there seems to be an ever fluctuating conventional wisdom about these issues. Breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding (see “The ‘B’ Word”) is a good example of how something so seemingly simple and innocent can cause such varying opinions and changing advice, and yes, even a bit of hostility about it all. So this very volatility is something a parent must face…that some things change, and some issues have support from different sides. Yet no matter how confusing, ALL of us need to adapt to the reality that in the end, we must make our own best decision, based on the available facts and our own values, and those decisions must be respected, regardless of which decision a parent makes (within obvious limits, of course!)
With that being said, no wonder there are differences in opinion, since the “rules” that are given to parents by pediatricians and child specialists change VERY frequently. For example, my younger sister and I were pregnant a little over a year apart and the list that was given to me of foods NOT to eat during my pregnancy, were significantly different than the list that was given to her, a list provided by the very same doctor, may I add? And imagine how different the information given to me when I left the hospital with baby Branden was from the information given to my mom when she left the hospital with her last of four children, 16 years ago. Conflicting advice is a situation that just adds to the confusion and to the debates and the sometimes unwanted “two cents worth”. Just saying!
Moreover, each child that you have is different. The techniques that may have worked perfectly with your first child could be a total fail with your second. While this may turn your world upside down, you as a mother need to follow your instincts and figure out your next plan of action in order to overcome the problem at hand. Yet many people have a tendency to compare one child to another when they give advice, whether they are siblings, grandchildren, cousins, friends, etc. And the advice comes from all directions, while these “good intentioned” folks have no hesitation about telling us what worked for “my little Brooklyn” or “the amazing Max” or the next door neighbors’ [gifted or learning impaired or hyper active] child.
Yet comparisons are futile, no matter who is being compared or who is doing the comparisons. Every child is an individual and the way that they should be raised must be catered to their individualities. It may sound like a platitude, but it is so true: “No two children are alike!”And the approach a parent takes with each child will be more successful if they, along with all the wannabe “advisors”, acknowledge that!
Because this is such an issue for me, I talked to many people in preparation for this post, and everyone agreed that this tango must end. So then, how do we let the unwanted dance partners know that they (and their opinions!) just got voted off? We simply don’t engage in it, that’s how. Remember, it takes two to tango! And, since every family has their own reasons behind the decisions that they make (see “The Many Styles of Parenting”), it is no one’s business but their own. Like I always say, what works for you may not work for me, and we must respect one another and the way that each of us has chosen to operate.
After pondering this issue with Deborah, my lovely editor, and writer and mama in her own right (her “babies” are over 21!!), we came up with the following rehearsed line I shall use in response to any unwanted parenting advice that comes my way: “Branden’s father, and our pediatrician, and I have all agreed on this approach for now, and we think that it’s best for Branden that we stay consistent.” This type of statement covers all of your bases, doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, and lets people know that you are not interested in their advice or in debating the topic. Just insert your child’s name where I said “Branden” and then you can go on your merry way! In effect, you can “graciously” dust your unwanted dance partner AND their unwanted parenting advice by stating in your own prepared words what is off limits for you.
So, my fellow Mamas, if you have a crazy “tango” situation that you would like to share with me, along with how you shimmied your way out of it, I would love to hear about it! Together we can “vote them off”!